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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The sociogenesis of idiocultures

  • Author(s): Downing Wilson, Deborah
  • et al.

This research explores the ways small group cultures are created and common understandings among previously unacquainted individuals are achieved. The genesis of culture is conceptualized here as a collective narrative process - a creative meaning-making endeavor that entails ongoing negotiation and adaptation, affective investment, the synchronization of previously learned systems of symbols and practices, the development of hybrid and new practices, and the formation and definition of group boundaries. Central to this work was the implementation of a research strategy, referred to as Romantic Science, which emphasizes the lived experiences of the participating observers, incorporating the researchers' "scientific knowing" with the feelings they have as they explore new areas of knowledge in relationship with others. These feelings are conceptualized, not as secondary or auxiliary forms of understanding, but as key elements of our cognitive and communication processes. A social simulation game, BaFa' BaFa', was adapted for use as a research tool that brought people together in meaningful relationships, provided them with legitimate roles inside a group activity where their actions had real consequences, and evoked the measure of affective investment that this paper argues is necessary for successful engagement in the genesis of small group cultures. Forty university students were engaged as ethnographic co-researchers for a period of ten weeks and immersed in simulated cultures in order to investigate cultural genesis in a systematic and theoretically informed manner, and to tell their story of cultural creation with the authority that comes from first-hand experience. This narrative report, which includes the ongoing interpretations of all participants, is the result of a meso-genetic approach to documentation and analysis

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